By Jason L. Langlois

It had been a long time, years, in fact, since Marie had returned to the house. She hadn't forgotten. How could she? How could anyone? The vision still swam in her mind's eye when she was upset.

But she had to get closure. She had to, or she would never be able to sleep peacefully.

It was her fiancé who had suggested this step. To return to the house and confront her fears. Then she would be able to sleep, undisturbed.

She could not drive the images from her mind, but, perhaps, she would be able to let them go, let them fade. Let the past be the past.

The taxi pulled to the front of the house. Leaves scattered, the front of the house unkempt. The gardners had all left, obviously. At least, Marie assumed so. She hadn't kept appraised of the comings and goings of the house since the events that had caused her to leave.

The murder, she reminded herself, facing her past as her therapist had encourage. Not the event; Relena-sama's murder.

She had heard, vaguely, of other events, but only as they were reported on the news channels, and only in passing. She found that anything to do with this place or the people who had lived in it caused the images in her mind, of Relena-sama lying on the bed, her face frozen in a horrible expression, nothing but a bloody cavity where her chest had been, to return with a vengeance. Still, she'd heard. Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell's disappearance, Mr. Ribeira-Winner's tragic death on the road nearby... the house had been abandoned for some time.

She assured the cabbie that this was where she wanted to be, and stepped out after paying her fare. Another would come along in an hour to pick her up. That would give her enough time to face her fears, and also not provide her with an easy way to back out. She was stuck here for an hour.

She stepped up to the door, which blew open in the wind. A gentle memory, of the door being open when returning from a shopping errand, graced her mind. She had insisted the police be called, but it was for nothing. Nothing was missing, no one was there. It had taken hours to force the leaves back out the door, as they kept blowing back in.

But Relena-sama had looked haunted, and also resigned, as if she knew that something untoward had happened...

Marie stepped inside, watching the leaves gather. She was not afraid that someone had come in, or was still there. The owner of the property had given her permission to look, but with apologies that no one would be there to guide her through. They were short staffed of late, he'd said. She understood, didn't she? Of course she did. It was more convenient, as she'd told the man that she was a prospective buyer, and that had been an outright lie. It would be easier for her if there wasn't some frantic realtor listing the good points of the house, trying to make a sale.

Though, Marie had the feeling that the owner didn't believe her.

She closed the door and lifted her head. Her eyes widened. Though they had neglected the outside and let the leaves and grass overrun it, the inside of the house was nearly pristine. The floors still gleamed, the windows were still clear. It almost filled her with a sense of calm. In fact, she had been smiling when the thoughts had crept in. Why would the realtors clean the inside but not the outside? Wasn't there dirt on the windows?

Where, she realized with a start, were the leaves?

She shook her head. Her mind. Her mind was playing tricks on her. She set her jaw and went, resolutely, up the stairwell.

The second floor was as clean as the first, and her room was as neat and tidy as when she lived there. It was the same, of course. The bed, the closet, the tiny desk. She ran her fingers over the wood and looked into the little mirror that let her have a view of the window behind her as she worked. She smiled into it.

Until her face in the mirror went pale, and the eyes blackened, as if pulling in all light.

She stumbled back with a scream. Her legs hit the bed, and she fell backwards onto it. She could not stand, she realized with horror. Something was grabbing her hands, and she couldn't stan-

She catapulted off of the bed and pressed her back against the wall, taking in huge gulps of air. She could feel her hand shaking, and tears running down her face.

No, no, no, not me, not me, her thoughts ran through a litany, and it took her long moments to calm herself.

Obviously, it was a result of the stress of being here again. How many times had she seen something similar, ever since Relena-sama had been killed? She had seen Relena-sama and her late husband that very night.

A figment. Nothing more. And exactly what she was here to deal with.

She left the room, and it was understandable if it were a little hasty, wasn't it?

But as much as she didn't want to stay in her old room, the thought of going upstairs, to Relena-sama's room, made her tremble.

She put a foot on the next stair, and then, after a long wait, the other foot on the next one up.

She did not remember the journey up the stairs. Only that the house had darkened. A storm was passing through, she told herself, she was sure, but it had been clear when she'd arrived...

She was at the bedroom door, breathing heavily, even though the trip up the stairs was neither rushed nor overly arduous. She clenched her fists once, then, with a quick motion, pushed it open, expecting a wraith to be right there, the image of Relena-sama, eyes black, mouth open and filled with blood, screaming Marie's doom--

Nothing was there, and Marie relaxed, realizing that her heart was racing, and her breathing was rapid, and her fists clenched so tight she could feel the nails.

Silly me, she chuckled to herself. I've gotten myself all worked up.

The bed was the same, or looked the same, but the floor was different. Darker wood, a redder kind of wood, or at least a redder stain. The thought of it seemed tacky to Marie, who, in a sudden air of bravery from having faced the evil door and its non-existent phantasm, clucked her tongue. A darker stain was understandable, but considering the blood that had spilled on the floor, a red one was just wrong.

She moved to the bathroom. This, she had been confided in by Relena-sama herself, had been a place of torment for her former employer. An image of a woman would appear and taunt her with words and laughter.

An image a lot, she surmised, like the one in the mirror, appearing to look over her shoulder. One that looked like Relena-sama, pale faced, black eyed, and grinning a horrible grin.

But now she had the measure of it.

She leaned in close, the image seeming to follow her in the mirror, and whispered, directly to it.

"You're nothing but a figment of my imagination." She smiled at the image, a calm, wonderful smile. "And you can't hurt me."

"Yes," whispered a voice in her ear, in time with the moving lips from the image, "I can."

She felt the hand on the back of her head, nails like claws clamping down, and her eyes widened, just as the hand thrust her forward,  face first, into the mirror. Glass shattered, and the hand pulled her back, many, many evil smiled greeting her, two shards sticking out. The hand pushed forward again, and Marie was thrust into darkness, screaming, pain, drowned out by laughter from the woman.

"And, in a story with eerie timing, a woman was found dead today, murdered in the house that was already a location of mysteries. Many of you will remember that, eleven years ago, a war hero was violently killed there, followed exactly a year later by his wife. The place was a source of rumors of disappearance and murder in the spanning years, but, until last night, no proof had been found.

"The owner of the property commented on the rumors, 'Nonsense. It is tragic what happened to that young lady, but I assure you, there are no such things as vengeful spirits!' When asked about the rumored disappearance of some of his sales and maintenance staff, he declined to comment."



Next: Dark Mist Eyes: Duo & Hilde